It's a tall task for a film to successfully breathe new life into history's most iconic characters, especially those who have taken on their own special kind of mythology in popular culture. Think Marilyn Monroe or Princess Diana: both vilified and beloved in life, and eventually reborn in wincingly poor biopic films (
) long after their death. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't feared a similar fate for Jackie, the biographical drama that examines Jackie Kennedy's week following the assassination of her husband, President John F Kennedy, in 1963.
With Chilean director Pablo Larrain (No, Neruda) embarking on his first English feature and Academy Award-winning actress Natalie Portman in the titular role, I honestly have no idea what I was worried about. Jackie is a mesmerising tour de force, as brutal as it is gentle and as jaw-droppingly gorgeous as it is bleak.
In the aftermath of the momentous assassination, Jackie Kennedy sits down with an unnamed journalist (Billy Crudup) to give her first public interview. Through her stilted, tight-lipped recollections, the story flashes back to the day that changed history, and the immediate fallout.
If you are looking for a patsy-blaming, bullet trajectory graph-laden treatment of what happened on Dealey Plaza that day, Jackie will not provide it. As the title suggests, this is the story of the woman in the blood-stained pink replica Chanel, JFK himself making the briefest of appearances by alarming lookalike Caspar Phillipson. History aside, Jackie dwells on the tragedy of young love stolen, the fickleness of fame, and what happens when you lose the one person that your world was built around - even if that person is the leader of the free world.
Make no mistake; this movie belongs to Natalie Portman. Channelling the same electric mix of fear, ambition and fragility that won her the Oscar for Black Swan, she may just be on track to take another one home for the mantelpiece. Portman melts into Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy completely, oscillating effortlessly between the breathless prim public version and the fierce private iteration of the woman. In the "present day" scenes, her body stiffens up like a viper waiting to pounce, relaxing only to light another cigarette. In flashbacks, we see a terrified mother, a beaming housewife and a grieving wife. As the credits rolled I could think of nothing but her wiping hastily at the red patches on her baby-pink twin set.
And, allow me this, the costuming is enough to convert the most apathetic of fashionistas. Luxury vintage designer dresses, necks and wrists dripping in diamonds, that iconic blood-stained suit. Jackie Kennedy's aesthetic in both clothing and home decor was nothing to be sniffed at, and the film holds these talents up proudly. It's a powerful nod that gives previously undervalued credits to her crafts and skill, as well as acknowledging her crucial role as a solo mother to two young children.
Jackie ebbs and flows, rough in the most human way possible. It's a film full of whimsy and humour in one instance, that plumbs the depths of human despair in another. Skilful recreations of her televised appearances and, of course, the sickening Zapruder assassination footage feel like witnessing history all over again, and the more intimate moments are a peek behind the White House curtain that seldom comes with such raw heartache involved. Take a veil and some dark sunglasses to the cinema, because you're probably going to need them afterwards.